By Micole Williams, EM Entertainment Columnist
In “Divergent,” a film set in the future, in post-war Chicago, “the future belongs to those who know where they belong.” But protagonist, Beatrice Prior (Shailene Woodley) learns the hard way that “to know” is not enough. The green but gutsy lead, opens the film with a narration: a quick history lesson about the factions that make up this dystopian society.
The fence built to divide places that never recovered from the war and life itself is a character within itself. Although not painfully obvious, Miss Beatrice is…different (to say the least). She is torn between two worlds – so does that mean she has no future? She’s grown up in the “Abnegation,” the selfless faction. Beatrice’s loving parents are played by Ashley Judd and Scandals’ Tony Goldwyn (my, what cool parents she has). They are all mono-chromatically meek people that fade in the background due to their call to servitude.
Although her brother fits, it is clear to see what group Beatrice really wants to join. The only glimmer of light you see in the forced-to-be conservative character’s eyes is when she stops and watches the rowdy run through the streets jumping on and off trains to get from here to there.
The aptitude tests that the young adults are about to take assign them to a faction. Results like Beatrice’s are rare and being divergent makes her the ultimate threat to society, period. A “choosing ceremony” follows. If they choose their own affiliation, there is no changing, or going back to mommy and daddy. Shedding her subdued layers, Beatrice, goes her own way, becoming one of the fearless soldiers of “Dauntless.” Her brother chooses his own path, leaving the parents to sit with a surprisingly empty nest.
Now going by Tris, on the verge of happiness after exercising free will as a Divergent, she is about to learn the ramifications of transitioning from a dependent to a free mind. Tris soon learns that up close and personally, in this New World, the system is alarming. “Orders are not options” and no one cuts her any slack, even when she tries to stand up for what she thinks is right.
Her new family is made up of an interesting group that season the film in an authentic enough way. Zoe Kravitz (offspring of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet) rocks, playing a realistic smarty pants that turns squeamish when dealing with the head honchos and their hellish pit activities. Mekhi Phifer plays one of the hardcore ring leaders. In this film, there is “an art to losing yourself.” We learn through glass-eyed people like Kate Winslet’s character, human nature is a sort of enemy, one to be destroyed.
But luckily, Tris meets a cutie pie named Tobias (Theo James). They have more in common than what meets the eye. “Rules are rules,” but Tris is definitely an innate rule breaker. “We train soldiers, not rebels” is what they try to embed in her spirit, but she can’t help that she is different. After Tobias, who kept a safe distance at first, sees Tris’ Dauntless test results from a trance/hypnosis-like view, he is in shock sharing, ” fear doesn’t shut you down, it wakes you up.”
He becomes more of an ally, possibly her only one after the tests separate her from the one-dimensional, easily controlled group. What could be celebrated, makes Tris a target. “If you don’t fit into a category, they can’t control you.” Beatrice runs the risk of not passing other physical tests, which could make her wind up “factionless” – the people who look a hot mess in a world that is already in shambles because they are painted as lost souls who suffer the most.
Movies like this may make “Anthem” and “Atlas Shrugged” author Ayn Rand proud, if she were here today, but most importantly also the many women who feel their individualism is tested on a daily basis and all they want to be is who they are. The women who battle it out with power struggles of old and new ways, family versus self issues know this story is as old as time and it is still relevant.
Micole Williams is a teacher, author and filmmaker from Houston, Texas. On Twitter, follow her @willmpower and follow her book series @the TWOTLTseries.